Posts Tagged redemption

Revelation and Redemption

I’ve finally finished “Engaging with God” by David Peterson. It was not so much a difficult read as it was difficult to find the time to read in the midst of so much busyness this year. I highly recommend it to any other liturgical musicians like myself. The book is a study in worship from the perspective of biblical theology. Peterson’s general thesis can be summed up with this sentence:

Revelation and redemption are the basis of authentic worship in biblical thinking. pg 284

Revelation means that we can only worship the Lord because he has graciously revealed himself to us. We can’t worship that which is not known. The Lord’s revelation began through the covenant relationship with the Israelites in the Old Testament and it was fully realized in the revelation of his Son, Jesus, in the flesh and through the internal dwelling of his Spirit. No amount of reason, meditation or cultic practices can get us any closer to the Creator without his graciously drawing near to us.

Redemption means that if the Lord has revealed himself to us, we are still in a state of unworthiness before him. Like the prophet Isaiah, in the presence of the Lord, we can only declare that we have “unclean lips”. No one can come before the Lord and experience his holiness  without exposing ourselves to his just wrath. Yet, once again by grace, we have be redeemed. In the Old Testament, the Lord graciously received sacrifices that represented atonement for sin. He invented this system in order to give us some way to be acceptable in worship. In the New Testament, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the Great High Priest who offers that blood as atonement before the Father. The followers of Jesus become the new temple, the new Jerusalem, and the new priesthood. Instead of destroying his fallen, rebellious children, the Lord has made a living Way by which we can draw near to the throne of mercy.

So, in worship this weekend, I encourage you to ask the Lord to reveal himself to you though the message of the songs, the teaching of Word, and the expression of his glory in the church and in his creation. Behold the glory of God because He has graciously revealed himself to his people. You don’t have to be concerned with “getting your heart in the right place” or with whether the band plays “good worship” or pastor preaches a “good sermon”. Rather, pray for the Spirit to open your eyes to see the glory of the Lord revealed. Then, eat and drink the blood and body of Christ. Receive the gracious redemption of the Lamb of God. There is no sin too great or mess too large for the power of the blood to redeem. As the Spirit reveals himself and the blood of Christ is applied, you will enter into authentic worship and be filled with praise and adoration and join with the angels, the creation and the church as they gather before the throne and worship the Ancient of Days.

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Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21

Joseph and Mary were commanded to give their child the name, “Jesus” as a sign and a symbol of his appointment to the role of Messiah. The Law of YHWH clearly stated that failure to remain faithful to the covenant at Sinai would result in exile and death (Deuteronomy 28) . God’s people had strayed from the covenant and had become idolaters and oppressors (Jeremiah 2). However, the promises that YHWH had made to Abraham would not fail. He would remain faithful even when his people were not (Jeremiah 31).

Our present-day understanding of the phrase, “save his people from their sins” is a little clouded with “alter call” rhetoric. We read into it a personal application that basically says, “I will get a clean record and clear conscience.” However, this would have a much larger and more powerful meaning to 1st century Jews like Joseph and Mary.  Instead of thinking of metaphysical absolution that would result in an after-life paradise they would be thinking of the salvation from the oppressive rule of Rome and the false kingdom of Herod and the return of YHWH’s presence to the Temple in Jerusalem. Salvation from sins was understood to mean the end of the curses that came from the covenant unfaithfulness. So as the Savior, Jesus would save (restore the kingdom rule of YHWH)  his people (Israel, the chosen instrument of YHWH’s righteousness and justice to all the earth) from their sins (their covenant unfaithfulness to fulfill God’s purposes in the earth.) You can see this understanding of salvation especially in the songs of  Mary (Luke 1:46-55) and Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79).

This means a lot to me today because I’ve been struggling a lot with sin lately. Not just my own sin (that’s definitely been a struggle), but also the power of sin all around me. That power looks like the brokenness in the community, my kids’ inability to just obey, the way that sin gets woven so strongly into our hearts and lives that it seems impossible to remove it without destroying everything else. Why does sin hold such power? Why can’t we just obey? You feel the same cry when you read the prophets. A desperate longing to see people turn from their sin and repent, to return to their Father and his gracious embrace.

The name of Jesus stands as a symbol of the zeal of the Lord to accomplish his redemptive purposes with his good creation. His name means, “No, sin will not win the day. No, death will not be the victor. No, the power of Rome and all other empires that are built on injustice and exploitation will not prevail. The curse that was laid upon Israel for her unfaithfulness to the covenant would be lifted by the mighty acts of Abraham’s son. Jesus came to fulfill the fullest expression of the covenant faithfulness that would redeem his people from the power of sin.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Joy to those who long to see Thee
Dayspring from on high, appear
Come, Thou promised Rod of Jesse
Of Thy birth we long to hear
O’er the hills the angels singing
New, glad tidings of a birth
Go to Him, your praises bringing.
Christ the Lord has come to earth.

Come to earth to taste our sadness
He whose glories knew no end
By His life He brings us gladness
Our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend
Leaving riches without number
Born within a cattle stall
This the everlasting wonder
Christ was born the Lord of all.

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

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The Prodigals and the Prophets

My pastor is currently leading a group of men in my church through a book by N.T. Wright called “Jesus and Victory of God“. Yesterday, some stuff hit me like a lightening bolt. It was one of those moments when it felt like I was able to perceive a concept that seemed to envelop my whole sense of reality. I’m not sure if I can figure out how to share it here; it was such an explosion of ideas that it’s as if they were blasted out of my brain and now I need to piece it back together.

We read the parables of Jesus today as if they are pithy, fables designed to teach us moral or doctrinal truths that we can apply to our personal situation. But Wright claims that Jesus’ parables were shared with first century Jews and were designed to communicate concepts of the destiny of Israel and the coming kingdom of God. They were describing how the prophecies of the exile period as well as the covenant promises of God were about to be fulfilled. For example, Wright brings out a whole new perspective for me on what the parable of the “Prodigal Son” was intended to communicate. He says that the Jews who heard this story would automatically understand that the young son who runs away to a far off country represents those who have been taken away into exile as a result of their rebellion against God. All through the history of the chosen people of God you see that there is a pattern of exile and redemption. Jesus parable shows that the kingdom of God is characterized by this pattern and that God’s redemptive mercy includes allowing the sinner to experience the exile in order for them to respond to the mercy of God. Exile is not a mistake, it’s just as intentional as the Father from the parable freely giving his son the inheritance that he knows will be squandered.

In another chapter, Wright shows how the parable of the Sower is also understood in the terms of first century Jews. They would not interpret Jesus parable through the lens of modern evangelism the way most of us read it today. The seed is the word of God, but to the listeners in Jesus day, they would not interpret that phrase as the Bible or the gospel, but as the prophetic word. The prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc.) sowed the seed on the bad soil; the word of God was rejected. The prophets were rejected and ignored and the exile came despite their “sowing the seed” of God’s warnings and promises (see Isaiah 6). Jesus was saying in his parable that the good soil is the dawning Kingdom of God established by the Messiah. He was sharing with his disciples that the kingdom is coming, the word would take root, and the exile (which had not fully ended) was about to be

So there’s this pattern in all of history, prodigals and prophets. The prophet is blessed by God to bring His word, His Light into the world. The prodigal has a hardened heart and God’s judgment sends them into exile in order to bring them to a point of repentance where the seed of God’s word can finally take root. This is like fractal geometry. It represents the patterns of God’s redemption both on a massive universal scale and on a micro relational scale as worked out in the lives of individuals. For disciples of Jesus, we can be prophets and prodigals in the same hour. We are constantly experiencing exile and restoration as we live for the flesh or live for the Spirit. We also see it in the grand scheme of the redemption of the human race. God ordained for Abraham to produce a nation that would be a prophetic voice to the nations. Israel was God’s chosen people to accomplish this task, but even the sons of Abraham had to be exiled in order to bring them back to a place of redemption.

What about Jesus? Jesus is the prophet who brought the word of the kingdom, but he was also driven out into exile. On the cross, Jesus experienced the fullest sense of exile that has ever been know. Forsaken by his Father, Jesus received the exile of the prodigal despite his innocence. He received that wrath that we deserved in order to fulfill the pattern that God had ordain in a way that would reverberate through time and space, restoring all things under his Lordship.

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